Chapter 42

Still here?  Ready for more?  Read on then…

But remember you were warned.

(Prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

You should be wary of continuing on.

I guess I’ve said that before, but the warning merits repeating.  How can Brig possibly extricate himself from that impossible situation?  He is unarmed, he is more worried about Miss Marsch’s survival than his own, his rational thinking is most likely compromised due to anger, and the two gun men already have their weapons drawn and leveled.

My suggestion to you is to forget the gunmen showed up, don’t finish this story and go forward thinking the end was Emmalou and Brig sitting under that tree with the sun setting behind the Rockies.  Can you do that?  Probably not.  Would you do it if you could?  Also, probably not.

Well, that’s just the way it is then, right?  I reckon so.

Okay, here we go.  You might want to hang on to something because this could get a bit bumpy.

“Pardon?”  The gunslinger’s question came out in visceral drawl, scratchy, southern, and chalk full of venom.

Upon first encountering the two tie-down toting pistoleros at the Gunnison Inn, Brig hadn’t noticed much about them beyond their tall and lean figures, their hardware, and the condition of their travel weary clothes.  He had been a little more preoccupied with trying to keep Emmalou from cluing the two men onto who he actually was to spend more time analyzing them.

For the second encounter, Brig had been behind bars, and more concerned about finding out their true intentions towards him than reading anything deeper into them.  His focus had been on their words, their interaction with Sheriff Brown, and making sure that Cole didn’t leave himself open for any sort of hidden attack.

In those brief moments of staring the two men down, Brig learned a great deal more than he had on the previous two occasions combined.

The man who had spoken, the shorter of the two, had a scar running the length of his left cheek, from the edge of his ear lobe to just below the left edge of his lips.  Looks like a knife scar.  His clothes were still dusty and showing signs of overuse, but they weren’t as bad as they had been that day back at the bar.  He wore a smaller style black hat with a rattlesnake skin wrapped around the cap.  His eyes were a very fine blue, like the gray and white muddled sky just before the sun rises out of the east.

The scarred man’s companion, the taller of the two and the one who had ill advisedly run his mouth off to Cole back in the jail, had a week’s worth of stubble on his chin, ungroomed, and shaggy black hair that hang over his ears.  His hat was a large affair with a cord of hemp wrapped around the cap and some fancy embroidered beads along the brim.  And his eyes were the same color as hit hat: coal black.

The man with the scar is the leader of the two.  Brig knew that straight out on instinct, though if had thought back on the last encounter he could have surmised that as well from their interactions then.  He had read the two men and his gut had told him the truth of it.  Even if two men think they are equals when it comes time to make decisions one will always defer to the other.  If, and it is a huge if, I can convince “Scar” that they should walk away the other will follow without any further problems.

 Brig desperately wanted to look over to Emmalou and let her know that he would find a way out, let her know he had been in worse situations and always found a solution, but he didn’t want to show any sign of weakness, and wasn’t sure what the sight of her would do to his own resolve.  There may be only one way out of this.

 No more pleasantries.

“Turn around and walk away.”

Scar laughed, and after the briefest of hesitations his companion joined in.  The guns stayed where they were and neither looked apt to leave without additional assurances it was the right thing to do.

One of the reasons that Brig had never considered himself a gunslinger is because of all the men who knew who had actually liked being branded as such not a single one of them had been anything but a coward.  They had never learned how to stand up and face living, struggle through the toughest parts, without hiding behind a gun.  When push came to shove, their cowardice would show, and if a situation arose where they thought the risk to themselves outweighed the benefits of the pursuit they were after they would turn tail and flee.

The original plan that Sheriff Brown and Brig had worked up on how to deal with the gunmen had been little more than a very dangerous bluff of sorts.  If he had been confronted in town and been afforded the opportunity to name a time and place for a traditional “quick draw at noon” type of fight, that so many of the men in Brig’s past had been too eager to initiate with him, he was supposed to find Cole to get a gun, and to also get a special vest of sorts that the two of them had put together.

The “vest” consisted of little more than the wrought iron door of an old furnace that Cole had replaced in the jailhouse a few years before but had never gotten rid of.  Good iron is good iron.  The square door was affixed with rope straps to hold it in place and the whole mess of it was camouflaged by a ratty poncho Cole had purchased from a trader the year before but had never found a reason to wear.

The rest of the plan was simple, as all good plans should be.  If Brig’s nerves could hold, he was to just stand there in the street and not draw.  Eventually one of the two men would draw, and being a professional, would aim center of mass.  The slug would hit the iron vest and Brig would crumple to the ground.  Then Cole would run into the street, gun drawn and either send the two men on their way so they could gloat over killing Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, or he might arrest one or both of them depending on the circumstances that played out.  The hope was that Brig would then be able to live on anonymously in town or, if it seemed too dangerous to stay, he could move on and start over somewhere else with a new name, because the word would spread that Brig Coyle was officially pushing daisies.

It was, of course, a terrible plan, and both men had known it.  There was no guarantee that just because the two men looked like they knew what they were doing with a gun that they would actually aim for his chest.  In their rush, and nervousness, to draw against the famed Brig Coyle they might hit him anymore, or miss entirely in which case it would be obvious that he wasn’t drawing on them and they would suspect that something was amiss.  Additionally, if they did manage to hit the iron vest the sound of the slug slamming into the metal would ring out loud and clear and they would definitely wonder about that.  Finally, there was no way to know if Cole would be able to keep them from inspecting Brig’s remains and the closer they got the easier it would be to tell that there was no blood, and he was still breathing, and wouldn’t it be super simple to just squeeze off a few more rounds at close range.

Terrible plan or not, it didn’t matter anymore because he wouldn’t have to follow through with its madness.  Our one-eyed antagonist was actually a little relieved despite the current predicament.  He had not relished the thought of lining up in front of the two men and trusting his life to their aim and a piece of scrap metal.  Plus, he wasn’t entirely certain that he would be able to withstand the urge to defend himself.

Brig let the men laugh without batting his eye or shrinking away from them.  He had faced death before, wasn’t afraid of it, and certainly wasn’t going to give those two assassins the pleasure of seeing him squirm before they fired their widow makers.   In Brig’s case there wouldn’t actually be a widow, but that didn’t matter.   The laughter quieted down and Scar grimaced because it had no outward affect on his prey.

He was the freight train and he had desperately wanted to see Brig’s eye light up like a deer caught in the headlamp as he barreled forward.  It hadn’t and that both annoyed him and flustered him.  His finger depressed ever so slightly on the trigger.  In a minute I’ll be the man who killed Brig Coyle, the gunslinger.

“Brig Coyle, it’s nice to meet you, again.  Now it’s time to say ‘goodbye.’”

“Are you sure that’s what you want to be doing?”

Brig’s voice was flat, expressionless, it held none of the rage that shown clearly in his good eye, and it held no trace of fear or anguish.  It was the tone, lifeless and matter-of-fact, that caused Scar to pause squeezing the trigger of his firearm.

Brig saw the hesitation and lunged.

Scar’s gun fired.

Emmalou screamed.

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Chapter 41

You should be wary of continuing on (yes worth repeating – you’ll understand in a minute).  It isn’t all happy silly love and redemption from here on out.  Brig has tough choices to make.  Battles will be fought… that is not just an idle threat.

(Prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

You should be wary of continuing on.  If you stop now you won’t get the whole story but you will end on a happy note and be able to provide whatever ending you want to this tale.  If you continue on… well, I promise nothing.

You’ve been warned.  That’s the best I can do.

The rest happened, or so I’ve been told and now I’m telling you, whether you read on or not.

Brig watched that hour pass an inch at a time as the sun moved across the sky and the shadows extended towards the west.  It was quite possibly the longest hour of his life, and that was saying a lot given the life in question.  Bar fights, gun battles, jail time, and years lost in the mire of booze were nothing compared to the dread that twisted in his stomach with each inch of fading daylight as he waited to return to Emmalou’s place.

If you’ve ever felt the twisting, gnawing, pull of love in your guts and the resulting thoughts your mind conspires to parade in one after the other you know exactly what Brig was experiencing in those moments.  He questioned his motives, his feelings, and his sanity.  He questioned Emmalou’s motives, feelings and sanity too for agreeing to join him for dinner, for possibly wanting anything to do with him in the first place.  He was a wretch and she was perfection.  They couldn’t possibly work together and yet that same feeling of budding love provided enough hope and optimism that made it worth chasing after all the same.

It’s just one of those things.  You know you shouldn’t mess with it but you can’t help yourself.  Rational thinking?  It was left at the station and you didn’t even waive it goodbye as the train pulled away.  By the time you thought to look back the station was hidden behind the rolling hills.

The one-eyed gunslinger-no-more, armed only with the picnic basket that Mrs. Sorensen had let him borrow and packed up for him with diced meats, a variety of cheeses, a sourdough bread wheel, and a few other odds and ends, knocked on Miss Marsch’s front door a few minutes after the hour had expired.  It was simultaneously as close to her suggested arrival time as he dared to show up and as late as he could convince himself to wait.

The door opened and the sunshine seemed to step out on to the porch with Emmalou, it started somewhere near her smile, probably in that tiny dimple hidden in the corner, and spread out from there.  Brig was speechless at the sight of her but did manage to get his lips to work their way into a smile and his body to half turn so he could offer her his arm.  That was foolish.  What if she doesn’t accept it?

Emmalou gave him her version of a mischievous grin, and then slid left arm through his right and used her other hand to shut the door behind her.   Arm in arm they descended from the small porch and headed down the dirt road towards the sunset.

Were there sparks?  Were there tingles from the contact?  Were they both blushing and giggling internally as their minds processed the physical connection?  Without a doubt.  But, you already knew that, right?

Brig led Emmalou a short distance out of town to a spot he’d found in the first couple of days he’d been in Gunnison doing chores for the Sheriff.  It was a small rise, with a single tree, that had a clear view of the giant rocky peaks rising out of the earth in the north.  The Gunnison River burbled nearby; out of sight, but close enough to hear and marked by the scrub brush that grew along the banks.  The tree was old, with a gnarled trunk, but large sturdy limbs full of lush green leaves sway ever so gently in the afternoon breeze tumbling out of the mountains.  It was simple and beautiful at the same time.

The perfect place for us to eat because it is just like us: I’m simple and Emmalou is beautiful.  This place was made for us.

Emmalou’s thoughts hadn’t progressed quite that far as she was still in state of shock over the view.  How long have I lived in this town and I’ve never made it out here before?  The sun slid an inch further down the western side of the sky and the shadows of the hills and mountains stretched that much further towards the east.  The sections the sun hit were crystal clear in detail to the point that things miles away seemed like she should be able to reach out and touch them.

Brig reluctantly withdraw Emmalou’s arm from his own so he could set the whicker picnic basket down and pull the square piece of cloth that had been folded within.  He quickly spread it out, located four small rocks to hold down the corners and then invited Emmalou to sit with them in the shadow of the tree.  The faced north so they could take in the stunning terrain as they ate their meal.

“How did you find this place?”  Emmalou watched as Brig carefully withdrew the dinner items from the basket one at a time and set them out in front of her.  I’ve seen those hands do some atrocious things and now I’m seeing them carefully, meticulously, set out food for me to dine upon.  Is this the man he would have always been if he had made different decisions along the track of his life?

“Sheriff Brown had me run some errands out this direction when I was working for him,” while he answered Brig began to peel the rind off a hunk of salami, “and I may have made a circuitous route of it heading back into town when I was done.”

Her eyes flashed with curiosity and Brig was helpless to do anything but to elaborate.

“Well, I guess I had been contemplating just not coming back to town.  I was still in the throws of withdrawals at the time and being away from Cole’s watchful eyes had given me a fair amount of hope that I might stumble upon on an abandoned cabin or something off the beaten path that still held a cache of something, anything, that could soothe my desire and quench my thirst.  I didn’t find any booze, but, I did find this spot and while I sat here, momentarily paralyzed by the shakes, I watched the sun set.  The darkness settled in around me, the shakes passed, and I made my way back to town.”

“That’s a fine story, Mr. Coyle.”

“Brig.”

She looked at him askance, uncertain, unsure of herself and unsure of him.  She had heard his life story though, he had layed every bit of who he was at her feet and there was nothing left hidden that she needed to uncover.  And I’m still here.  She smiled at him and saw the immediate affect it had on him.

“That’s a fine story, Brig.”

“And…”

“Yes, you may call me Emmalou, if you want.”

“Thank you, Emmalou.”  Brig handed her a plate with a piece of the dried and peppered meat, along with some grapes, cheese, and a hunk of the sourdough wheel.  She took the plate from him and for awhile the two sat in silence, enjoying their meal, enjoying the scenery, and enjoying just being in each other’s company.  There are moments when it is best to remain silent, to not feel like there can’t be any gaps in the conversation, and those minutes while the two dined was one such moment.  Perfection.

It was shattered by the sound of the hammer on a revolver being cocked.  Well, to Emmalou it sounded like the sound of a hammer being cocked but to the trained ears of Brig, it was actually the sound of two hammers being locked almost simultaneously.  He could also tell in that instant that it guns held by two different people because the ratcheting noise had come from two locations too far away to be a single gunman holding two pistols.

Really, that’s the kind of detail I want to focus on right now?  That I could tell it was two different gunmen?  While I completely missed hearing them walk up behind us, and that is information that would have been better to hear. 

Brig was so irritated with himself that he scarcely reacted at all to the sound that had interrupted their afternoon picnic.  Emmalou, on the other hand, immediately jerked her head around to locate the source of the noise.  Her eyes went wide with surprise and fear and her mouth formed that perfect “o” shape reserved for such occasions.

Brig noticed her reaction, registered the fear behind her eyes, and his irritation with himself for having missed the signs of the gunmen’s approach quickly shifted gears to anger that they would cause her to have such a reaction, that they would dare to cause her to feel such fear.  No one should ever make her feel that way!

Brig slowly shifted his torso and rotated his head around to face the two men.  He didn’t bother looking at their guns.  He didn’t bother acknowledging that they were the two men who had been looking for him and asking questions around town.  He didn’t worry about the advantage they had in the situation.

His face contorted into a glare that few have seen and survived.  Brig’s good eye bore into all four of his would be assassins one at a time.  His anger, his passion, his drive and determination passed through those eye to eye connections and both men took a step back.  Their guns didn’t waiver though.

When Brig spoke, his voice carried iron; his words were not to be trifled with.  “You should turn around and walk away.  Right.  Now.”

Chapter 40

Where do the weeks go?  I surely don’t know.  Perhaps if I only knew how to sew, I could stitch myself to the days, and then they’d go ever so slow…

None of that has anything to do with why you are here.  So, let’s get to it!

(For catching up purposes, all prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

“Good afternoon Miss Marsch.”  My god, but she is lovely.

Emmalou was tilling the garden behind her small home, her hair was pulled into a pony tail, and she was wearing a striking sun dress protected by an oversized apron that hung loosely so she could re-position it as needed.  The sun seemed to shine only on her.  His field of vision shrunk and Brig was struck by a disconcerting sense of everything else but Miss Marsch in her little pool of sunshine fading away.  He was floating, and dizzy, and weak, and elated all at the same time.

Suddenly, the sight in front of him shifted and Emmalou was no longer kneeling in her garden.  She was rising to greet him, smiling, racing towards him with her arms outstretched…

Brig had to look away to clear his head of the vision.  Brig Coyle, you are a fool.  What are you doing?  And what are you thinking?

“Well, good afternoon Mr. Coyle,” she responded.  “It’s good to see you on this side of the bars for a change.”  And all cleaned up too.

He chuckled.  He couldn’t help it.  “It’s good to be on this side of them.”

Kneeling on the apron, her right hand holding a small trowel and her left hand still holding the last weed she had pulled, Emmalou looked at Brig expectantly, curiously.  Why had Brig Coyle come calling?  She thought she knew but wouldn’t allow herself to presume anything.  Until she heard it from his lips she would keep herself, her thoughts, and her emotions in the dark.

Her unflinching, uncompromising, confident gaze unnerved Brig.  He had stared down the wrong end of countless firearms, held by the scourges of the world who’s glares would send children running to hide in their mother’s skirts, would send normal men scurrying in the opposite direction, but he could not hold hers.  Brig cleared his throat and turned away for the second time in quick succession.

He chuckled again, at himself this time, at the fool he was being.  She was beautiful, he definitely felt some sort of stirrings for her, but those were not reason to turn away.  Those were all the more reasons to find her gaze, hold it, and drink in every last glorious second of being in her presence.  And find more opportunities to be in her presence.

”I was wondering if you’d care to join me for dinner this evening?”  He didn’t stammer or stutter, but he did keep it straight on point.  No need to muddle things up with extra words.

Emmalou tilted her head ever so slightly to the left and appraised the man who stood before her.  He was not who she had first seen him as when he went walking down her street.  He was not who she had remembered encountering all the years ago.  Who is Brig Coyle?

On the inside she was in turmoil, uncertain about her own feelings and uncertain of how to proceed.  Would it be a slap in the face of the people from my past who were hurt by this man if I took an interest in him?  Can people truly change that much?  Does it matter either way, as just thinking things over like this means I have already taken an interest in him?

The seconds ticked by, Brig never looked away, and she didn’t budge from her spot.  The sun continued to shine down on them both, but it did seem to take special interest in her.  The light played with her hair, danced on her skin, and encased her in a warm glow.

Brig smiled at her.  Again, he couldn’t help it.  The smile was warm, inviting, and honest.  You may be thinking that’s an interesting way to describe a smile, but think about it a bit more and you’ll understand.

“Alright, Mr. Coyle, what did you have in mind?”

Brig’s smile deepened, and then twisted a bit at the corners as a small amount of playfulness, mischief, crept in.  Emmalou scowled at him, and then they both laughed.

“Well, I think I’ve found a spot that will be pretty nice for a picnic style meal, if you are up for a bit of an adventure.”

“First you are asking me to dinner, and now you are changing it to an ‘adventure.’  I do believe I’m going to have keep my eyes on you.”

That’s only fair.  I’ll be keeping my eye on you.  Have been actually, and will continue to do so.  Brig almost said these thoughts out loud but, uncertain of how they would be received, he managed to keep them to himself.

“I just need to finish up here,” Emmalou continued, “and then get cleaned up a bit.  If you come back around in an hour I should be ready for this adventure.  But don’t you dare come a minute early or you will certainly get an earful, understood?”

“Understood.”

Chapter 39

Welcome back.  Ready for more?  Of course you are!

(All prior chapters can be found here and I know you knew that already.)

…..

The following morning Brig rose, before sunrise, found a basket with his breakfast waiting outside his door and made his way over to the Gunnison Inn to resume his work for Dan Reilly.  He ate the biscuits and bacon breakfast as he walked.  It was all delicious.  The biscuits were still warm and flaky from the oven and while the bacon had quickly cooled since being pulled off the griddle it was thick and crispy and just as good lukewarm as it would have been hot.

After stepping into the bar, Brig quickly went about his tasks, falling into his old routine with ease.  The floor was swept and mopped, tables and chairs were dusted off, the bottle inventory was reviewed and restocked as needed, and the bar was in tip-top shape long before the first hint of dawn crept into the eastern sky.

Brig felt good to be working again, doing something constructive with his hands even if it was just menial tasks.  He liked being a contributing member of society.  He liked repaying the people in town who had shown faith in him and given him the opportunities to turn things around.  And, it’s really good to not be in that cell anymore.

After finishing the last of his daily prep jobs, Brig poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at one of the tables near the bar.  He watched the day grow brighter as the sun eased up the eastern skyline while sipping his cup of strong brew.  As more and more light filtered into the Gunnison Inn he rose from his seat and extinguished the various oil lamps placed about the room and then returned to his seat.  His chair was positioned so that his back was to the counter, he faced the main door to the bar, and the hallway to Dan’s private quarters and the store room were behind him to his left.

It wasn’t until Dan rose a little while afterwards that it dawned on Brig that no patrons had come in yet.  Even on a slow day there were always a few regulars who came in for a little pick-me-up to start their day.  To have no patrons at all was unheard of.  It set Brig on edge.

As Dan pulled up a chair next to Brig, after pouring his own cup of coffee from the kettle behind the counter, he also seemed to notice the lack of customers because he blinked a couple times in rapid succession and looked slowly around the open room.  And then he frowned; an exaggerated gesture pulling back his left jowl and giving the large man an overall unpleasant countenance.  “Where is everyone?”

Brig didn’t reply.  He had already gone into gunslinger mode.  His eyes were probing the bands of light at the edges of the windows and doors looking for the brief interruptions of shadowy approaches.  His ears strained to pick up any wayward creaks as booted feet strove to steal across the wooden walkway out front undetected and any other noise that was out of place.  And, he waited for the sense of unease to settle into his gut.  Intuition, experience, whatever you want to call it, he had learned to trust his gut instincts long ago; they were seldom wrong.

However, he saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary and his gut told him that everything was fine.  He relaxed, a little bit, and asked, “Has it been quiet in here recently?”  He was trying to gauge if things had already been slower than normal or if they should attribute the lack of clientele to his return to work.  He wasn’t one to believe in coincidences.

Dan thought about it, took a sip from his coffee, cursed as he burned his tongue and wiped the back of his left hand across his mouth where some excess black sludge had managed to sneak out his lips.   Then he slowly shook his head.  “Don’t recall it being any slower than normal while you were in jail.”

Brig was terse, “What do they all know that we don’t?”

Dan had no answer and so let the silent room answer for him.  Brig’s right hand fell to his right hip, a motion born of years of experience and routine, only to recall, with some surprise, that there was no gun hung there that morning.  And there hasn’t been for some time, you fool.  He brought his right hand up to his face and scratched a spot under his chin where his beard growing in reminded him it was time for another shave.  Sufficiently scratched, itch relieved, his hand returned to his coffee mug and he raised it to his lips for another sip, and then another.

The two men sat at the table for the remainder of the morning and still no patrons came.  Intriguing, right?  Where is everyone?

As Brig’s shift drew to a close at the Gunnison Inn, he bid Dan a good day, and then he made his way up the main street to see if the barber was open and had time to give him a shave.  Everything about town seemed normal.  There were people on the streets.  There were people in the shops going about their business.  There just hadn’t been any people in the bar.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.

Open and busy, Brig took a seat at the barber’s, third in line, and waited his turn for a shave.  He tried to push the thoughts about the lack of patrons at the bar out of his mind by focusing on happier things, Maybe I should get a haircut while I’m here too.  Maybe I should call on Miss Marsch this afternoon after I’m all spruced up.  Maybe she’d like to join me for dinner, but eventually his mind came back to the situation at the bar.

Or the lack of the situation at the bar.  It’s not like I’m being shunned.  The barber hasn’t kicked me out of his shop.  The people I passed on the way over here weren’t avoiding more than normal.  So, if it’s not me, and it isn’t something affecting everyone else in town, what could be keeping the regulars from showing up?

Could something have happened out at the mines?  I guess that’s a possibility but wouldn’t more people around town have heard and be concerned?  There’d be some sort of rescue mission or gossip or something, right?

Brig didn’t know.  But I’m going to find out.

At that point Brig was called into the chair and the next 20 minutes, give or take, were spent in idle chatter with the barber.  The aging, heavyset, man appeared nervous at first to be doing a straight razor shave for the infamous Brig Coyle but the gunslinger-no-more told a joke or two to ease the tension and things went smoothly after that.

The barber, normally a good source for town gossip, didn’t know why there wouldn’t have been any patrons at the Gunnison Inn that morning either.  But, to be fair, he wasn’t the best source of information as he didn’t frequent any of the bars around town all that often; twice in his 25 years of residence to be exact.  The first time was on the day he arrived in Gunnison and the second time was the day his son was born.  His sharing of those stories pretty much dominated the rest of their “conversation.”

Please with the cut and the shave, Brig paid the man, and headed back down the street to Mrs. Sorensen’s, where he planned to change into something nicer than his work clothes before then going to see Miss Marsch.  With that plan in mind and the recent professional grooming he felt like a new man and his worries from the morning finally subsided to the back of his mind.

Chapter 38

Would you believe me if I said that I’d finished?  This isn’t the last chapter so don’t freak out, but the story is done…  53 chapters in total.  A beginning and an end.  How do you think it all turns out?

(All prior chapters can be found here.)

…..

The next few days passed without incident.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  And that always seems to be followed with something important and story changing or that could altogether be described as an incident.  Well, that’s not the case this time.  After those first few days passing without incident, a few days after that also passed without incident.

Meals were delivered, conversations were had, Cole made sure Brig and Emmalou had plenty of opportunity to talk in private during which time Brig always found at least one chance to flatter or compliment Miss Marsch.  She blushed each time but after a few days she was able to hold his gaze afterwards.

Edward Sans foot recovered sufficiently for him to return to the jailhouse, retrieve his revolver and then make his way back out to the Blunt spread.  As he holstered his weapon, which was unloaded, he didn’t apologize to Brig but he did look him up and down once and then slightly, ever so slightly, incline his head in the direction of the gunslinger.  It was a sign of respect and, begrudging or not, it meant that Ed didn’t plan on trying to make trouble for Brig anymore.

For his part, the one-eyed gunslinger didn’t actually believe that a single wound would get Ed off his case forever.  Once the cow puncher got to feeling better and had a few drinks in his system again, Brig was certain Ed would talk himself back into a frenzy and come back to town looking for more trouble.  Brig knew this with a certainty because he understood the type of man that Edward Sans was.  He understood because he had once been very similar: head strong and determined to take no gruff from anyone.

The only difference of course was that Brig wasn’t a coward and had always faced his challenges straight up (more or less), while Ed was more likely to scheme and connive and coerce his revenge and retribution.  Even though the man was a coward that actually made him more dangerous than the gunslinger and Brig would always keep a wary eye out for the man in the future.  However, in this story, he has made his last appearance.

Of the two gun men who had come to fight and kill Brig Coyle, the gunslinger, there had been no sign.  Which was a relief to Brig, Cole and Emmalou while also a cause for concern.  Without the gunmen about town they didn’t have to worry about them devising a way to set up a fight but that also left open the questions of if and when they would return, what they were planning, and so forth.  The unknown of it all was quite disconcerting.

Though, there had been no “incident” in those days it should be at least noted that Brig grew stir crazy and was ready to be released from his cell.  The term of his made up sentences rapidly approached and Cole, though leery, was also ready to spring the man and with no new reasons, real or feigned, to hold him they decided it was time for Brig to go free.

It was late afternoon when Brig stepped out of the jailhouse onto the boardwalk.  Cole stood to his left and Emmalou stood to his right and the three of them, as one looked first one way the length of the street and then turned and looked the other way.  Everything seemed as it should be so Cole and Brig shook hands and then the gunslinger and Miss Marsch made their way down the street towards Mrs. Sorensen’s where Brig had a real bed waiting for him and the possibility of eating a meal at a table again.

Emmalou wasn’t going to stay for dinner but she walked Brig all the way to Mrs. Sorensen’s anyway.  Nothing passed between them on the short walk.  Brig was enthralled by breathing the free air again and seeing the sights and smelling the smells of the city he had missed during his residence at the jailhouse.  Emmalou was too engrossed in her worries and about what the coming days would hold to be able to initiate or sustain any conversation.

Once they had reached their destination, they stood looking at each for a moment at the base of the wooden stairs the led up to the expansive front porch.  Then Emmalou smiled at Brig and turned to walk away.  He reached out and halted her progress by placing his hand on her shoulder.  It was the first time he had touched her in such a way and he immediately removed his hand.  The action had the desired affect though and she stopped and turned enough to face him again.

“I just wanted to thank you again, Miss Marsch, for the meals, and the conversations, and… and the friendship you’ve shown me.  I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

She smiled at him again, small but mischievous and her brilliant eyes sparkled in the light of the setting sun.  She radiated with youth and vitality.  Every aspect of her was beautiful and complex and seemingly more beautiful because of the complexities.  Brig’s hand fell to his side.  He was helpless to do anything but admire the gorgeous woman in front of him, captured completely by her smile.

“You’re welcome.”

She turned and took two steps before stopping again, this time without Brig’s intervention.

“And, please, call me Emmalou.”

Then she walked away without stopping, without further comment and without looking back.  Brig turned to the west, towards the sight of the sun sliding behind the horizon, and he bathed in the world around him.  He had never felt as exultant as he did in that moment.  He had never felt so “right.”  He was invincible again, the whole world made sense, all past fears and anguish were vanquished from his mind, and the future could only hold good things.

He stayed there, unmoving, lost in the moment until he heard the calls from inside Mrs. Sorensen’s that dinner was ready and then he bounded up the stairs two at a time and made his way to the kitchen to see if there were any chores he could do to make himself of service again.

There were plenty.